We mentioned Rory McIlroy’s mini-crisis last time, but one player seemingly unaffected by nerves seems to be this week’s local hero – Tommy Fleetwood.
It’s been a fantastic year for Tommy. He’s had his bad spell, after he won the Scottish Open a couple of years ago and tried to change his swing a bit before realising it was the wrong thing to do. Once he went back to his coach, think just seem to have clicked. In 2017, he started with a good victory in Abu Dhabi, and recently played well in several WGC events – coming second in Mexico.
However, perhaps the biggest boost he will have received – as we mentioned last time – will be from playing the last round of the US Open with the eventual winner, Brooks Koepka. More than anything, he will have realised how close he is to winning majors. Feeling comfortable playing with Koepka, and matching him for long periods of the day (before finishing fourth) will give him enormous confidence going into the Open.
One thing he must avoid, though, is becoming wrapped up in the crowd’s applause. He’s from Southport, so he will be crowd favourite by a mile – but he needs to focus on his game and not get distracted ‘playing to the galleries’ as it were. It’s a fine line but a good line to have to walk.
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We seem to be enjoying a resurgence in young British talent, from Tommy Fleetwood to Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Russel Knox. What do you think is behind it?
I think the big difference is that the European Tour plays right round the world now. Outside of Europe, it stretches all the way to China, Australia, Asia, South Africa and more. As a result, the players on the Tour are becoming world-experienced players, developing a game that can cope with extremely fast change.
One minute you’re playing in South Africa, the next minute Japan – travelling 8 hours with a 6-hour time change, and you’re expected to find your game again within two days. You need to be physically fit and mentally sharp consistently – which are exactly the skills needed to succeed in the majors. So everyone, especially the younger players, are benefiting from the global experience that the European Tour provides. Once they get into the Top 50 and start playing WGC events, the experience grows even further.
What’s more, I think this ‘global training’ is also one of the reasons that Europe often do so well in the Ryder Cup, the ability to adapt quickly to unfamiliar conditions and time zones.
Which other players are you expecting to do well?
The two players I fancy to do well are Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson.
Jordan Spieth is now ready to win another major. He’s had a good year, and with everyone talking about Rory and Dustin Johnson, he’s been able to quietly go about his business. With two tournaments under his belt on the PGA Tour and making the cut at the US Open with some good shots – he’s climbing back up the rankings. Third in the world now, and in the FedEx ranking – which I think are a better barometer – he’s fourth. He’s mentally strong again and ready to win another major, or even a few!
As for Dustin Johnson, clearly it’s not a shock to tip the World Number One to win the Open – but he is getting back to his best after that dreadfully unfortunate injury at the Masters.
However, and I’ve said this before, I wish the organisers would stop putting so many top players in the same groups on the first day – in this instance Dustin Johnson is grouped with McIlroy and Charl Schwartzel, elsewhere Sergio Garcia with Jason Day and Zach Johnson.
Why do you think it keeps happening?
The biggest reason they group them together is because the organisers are always terrified the top players won’t make the cut – so this might be the only opportunity for spectators to see them play before the weeks’ out. Plus, it makes a real spectacle for the television cameras. It’s a good draw for the audience, but not really a good draw for the players.
At the heart of it, it’s a gamble. It didn’t work at the US Open, where the top ranked players got locked in their own personal duels instead of playing the course and we saw a huge swathe of them not make the cut – and that could be a real possibility here.
If the third and fourth rounds draw the best together on the strength of their play, that’s appropriate – just look at Mickelson and Stenson last year. Earlier on, it starts to become a bit of a circus. With Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy playing together, the round could become a long-driving contest! We don’t need an exhibition mindset, it is the Open after all.
Missed Part 1 of Bernard Gallacher’s EXCLUSIVE Open Preview? Read it HERE!